Meralco moves prepaid electricity pilot test to December
MANILA, Philippines - Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country's largest power distributor, has pushed back the pilot testing of its prepaid electricity scheme to December, from the previous November target, said an official of the company.
Alfred Panlilio, Meralco senior vice president and head of customer retail services, did not provide a reason for the slight delay, although he said the testing is a sure go next month after the signing of an agreement with General Electric for the advanced metering system of the prepaid scheme.
Meralco was supposed to conduct the pilot test last July, but reset it to the second or third week of November, because it had not yet contracted a metering system integrator at that time.
Melinda Derpo, head of customer relations and innovations, said the pilot test will be carried out among around 40 households -- mostly of Meralco employees themselves -- in Angono, Rizal.
"We will confine it to our employees in Angono first because we want to make sure that there will be no glitches in the system when we finally roll out," she said.
Commercial testing of the prepaid electricity service will cover a bigger area of 400 households in February 2013. The final rollout will be in July 2013.
Once commercially available, Meralco said it would offer the service to an initial 40,000 households within its grid area. This is much lower than the 2.1 million customers that expressed interest in the service, according to a research conducted by the power distributor.
'Lower electricity bills'
Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) Executive Director and spokesman Francis Juan explained why they are pushing for the prepaid electricity scheme.
"This is for the customers, so that they will be able to manage their consumption. If they [avail of] the prepaid electricity service, they will be more aware of how they consume electricity. That awareness lowers consumption, and therefore lowers electricity bill," Juan said.
Aside from Meralco, only the Batangas Electric Cooperative has applied for the license to offer prepaid electricity at the ERC.
Juan said the ERC is finalizing amendments on the rules governing the prepaid electricity service to fast-track its implementation.
"The commission has just deliberated on the clarifications or amendments on the existing rules. This will address concerns stated by certain groups that are looking into offering their own version of the prepaid electricity service," he noted.
The prepaid electricity scheme is beneficial to both consumers and distribution utilities (DU).
According to the "Rules for Prepaid Retail Electric Service Using a Prepaid Metering System" issued by the ERC, the scheme will provide customers "a choice for energy management strategies" and "enhance the operational efficiency of the DU." This is amidst recurring instances of skyrocketing electricity bills and illegal connections that negatively affect both parties.
The ERC said, meanwhile, that the prepaid service will be offered on a "voluntary" basis, meaning customers will have to apply for it.
However, it said customers who "expressed their inability to pay existing bills under a postpaid service" and are "found guilty of illegal use of electricity by final judgment by regular courts or administrative agencies" may be required by DUs to avail of the service within an agreed scheme.
A 6-month trial period is mandated by ERC for consumers who intend to shift from postpaid to prepaid to determine whether they are satisfied with it.
Meralco, in its application filed at the ERC, stated that customers who want to avail of the system after the 6-month trial period will have to agree to a two-year lock-in period. - Rappler.com